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Police: Flanagan Review

Volume 699: debated on Wednesday 12 March 2008

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

What steps they intend to take to place the recommendations made by Sir Ronnie Flanagan in his final report, The Review of Policing, into the wider context of policing.

My Lords, Her Majesty’s Government are grateful to Sir Ronnie Flanagan for his thoughtful and incisive report and will respond to his recommendations shortly. The wider context of policing was addressed by Sir Ronnie Flanagan himself in the introductory chapters of his interim and final reports. The Government will further address this matter in our forthcoming Green Paper on policing.

My Lords, in thanking the Minister for that short reply, I draw the attention of this House to the fact that the Flanagan report concludes unequivocally that police numbers must fall in this country in the future. Will the Minister comment on this quite extraordinary statement, totally at odds with pleas from all sides that police numbers in England and Wales should be increased? The ratio of police to public in England and Wales is among the lowest of any developed country. There are 264 police officers to 100,000 population in England and Wales, but 387 in France, 457 in New York and 467 in Chicago. Does the Minister anticipate that the police task here will diminish in the coming years?

My Lords, police officer numbers are at an historic high, at about 140,000. We have 16,000 PCSOs, 74,000 other staff and 14,000 special constables. To be precise, Sir Ronnie Flanagan referred to an unhelpful party political debate around police officer numbers as the sole measure of police success. He said that the current numbers would be unsustainable in coming years when he looked at resources. Since then, he has publicly said that he would expect any fall to be very small. As I say, there are more than 140,000 police officers now compared with 127,000 in 1997.

My Lords, in the chapter on developing police workforce reform, Sir Ronnie states,

“Meeting these changing demands will require strong and effective leadership from all those involved in policing—from the Home Secretary and chief officers, right through to sergeants and individual officers”.

What do the Government intend to do about addressing this vital question of leadership?

My Lords, the noble Baroness raises an important point. We will be looking at this in our detailed response to the report. We are making an initial response and hope to produce a detailed response within a month.

My Lords, as recommended by Sir Ronnie, should the recently established Risk and Regulation Advisory Council begin a national debate on enhancing professional discretion and managing risk? This is in the context, as I understand it, of the police often having to avoid incidents because of health and safety. Has that consultation started? If not, when will it start and how long will it last?

My Lords, I do not know the exact detail and will come back to the noble Baroness in writing. We are looking closely at all the points that have been raised on increase of resources, the myriad changes of context in which policing operates and some of the other detail, but I do not know the precise answer to the noble Baroness’s point.

My Lords, given the need identified in Sir Ronnie Flanagan's review, in the Government's view, do enough police forces have a policy and a pay structure to attract people with relevant qualifications and experience to apply to join the police force at a mature age and provide the extra expertise that is clearly identified in the report?

My Lords, we have that structure in place. In fact, we have historically high numbers of people wanting to join the Police Service and we are getting extremely high-quality people in the service.

As an aside, I am sure that the whole House would agree that we feel the great tragedy of the loss of Chief Constable Mike Todd, a man whom I met twice and was most impressed by, with a very distinguished career. It is very unfortunate that this has happened—clearly, there has to be a post-mortem. He was typical of the very high quality of people we have in the Police Service.

On pay in general, the Home Secretary has written to the Police Negotiating Board and wants to discuss the possibility of a multilayer deal looking forward with the Police Arbitration Tribunal, post the 2007 award.

My Lords, we associate ourselves with the Minister's remark about the chief constable of Manchester.

Further to the Question from the noble Lord, Lord Dear, Sir Ronnie Flanagan talks about not only the unsustainable level of the current police forces but the need for workforce reform. Has the Minister considered that aspect of Sir Ronnie Flanagan’s report? What strategy do the Government have in mind to address that problem?

My Lords, I fear that I have to say again that that is part of the detailed work being done at the moment. We will coming back with a response within a month, so those issues will be covered, but I cannot talk about them at the moment.

My Lords, my noble friend mentioned PCSOs. Are PCSOs police officers? Do they hold warrants? The same applies to Highways Agency traffic officers. They are not police officers. They do not hold warrants.

My Lords, my noble friend raises a useful point in some ways, but PCSOs have been extremely valuable. They have done a remarkably good job. We are finding in local areas that people want more of them around. They are extremely valuable even though, clearly, they do not have all the powers of a proper police constable.

In which case, my Lords, surely they cannot be counted in statistics as if they were constables.

My Lords, I do not agree, because they are helping to do what is the responsibility of the police: protecting the public from anti-social behaviour right up to levels of terrorism. They help us in all those areas, so they are valuable.